All Around the Sound
Puget Sound treated us to a well-deserved vacation last week as we spent 5-days exploring the coves, inlets, and islands in "Reel Hussy," our 17' Boston Whaler, and a collection of Winston and Scott fly rods. As mentioned last week, Washington Fish and Game saw fit to close Area 11 to fishing from floating devices, so Tuesday morning, after a restful travel day on Monday, we blasted off to the north and the open waters of Area 10.
At least the weather was in our favor as calm seas and light winds prevailed. Our Whaler ate up the miles even at reduced throttle as I conserved fuel for the trip back to Gig Harbor. We cleared the tip of Vashon Island and swung the bow towards West Seattle and Lincoln Park, where word had it that Pink Salmon were making a slowing. Well, the word was out, and the shoreline was packed with Buzz Bombers launching hot pink projectiles seaward. Pinks love to hug the shoreline, which makes them an excellent target for fly anglers. Intermediate lines and lightly weighted flies usually do the job if you can get on the fish. With the fish sticking close to shore and the shore-based artillery firing missiles high into the air, self-preservation kept us just out of range of the onslaught and the Pinks. We decided to find a demilitarized zone to fish without the threat of an incoming bombardment.
Heading past the southern tip of Bainbridge Island, I checked the chart and tides and pointed us again to the north and Manchester State Park. Some of you may remember our summer camp trips to Puget Sound and Manchester several years ago. My memories of the area drew me there as I knew it was a fishy place. As we approached the shoreline, I could see a few fly anglers working off the rocks. Giving them space, we headed to the mouth of the cove to work the cliff face. Surprisingly, I heard someone call out my name, and I squinted into the sun to see who it could be. Idling over, I saw our friend and part-time shop help, Steve Lent, smiling from under his wide-brimmed hat. We chatted across the water, comparing fishing reports before leaving him to the Searun Cutthroat he had been entertaining.
Jennifer had caught a few Searuns while casting towards the shoreline by this time, but we were looking for bigger game.
A text dinged in from Blake at the Puget Sound Fly Shop. He suggested a place to check out, so off we went. Like many of the suggestions we'd been given, Blake's turned out to be wishful thinking on his part, as the tide wasn't ideal for the location. We'd need more fishy options. With the tip of Vashon Island in sight, marking the boundary of Area 11, I swung the bow towards Blake Island for one last shot before heading back to Gig Harbor.
By now, the tide was flooding nicely, and we set up to drift across the island's southern tip. Casting towards the shore and tantalizingly stripping small baitfish patterns, I was soon rewarded with a monster grab from a respectable Searun. The fish lit up the reel as he headed back up current, away from the boat. We played tug-a-war until finally, he was in the net but still in the water. Jennifer worked her magic with the camera, assuring our guest that he would be famous on "The Gram" before gently releasing him back into his salty environs. A few casts later, I repeated the same exercise with a slightly smaller copy of the first; then, the Sound decided we had enough fun for the day. I pointed the bow south towards Gig Harbor and our home on the Lyla.
We explored the southern open waters below the Tacoma Narrows Bridge for the next two days, visiting favorite Cutthroat haunts while keeping an eye out for Pink Salmon. On our last fishing day, in a small bay below Fox Island, Jennifer had a Pink Salmon rush her fly as she stripped it towards the boat. At the last second, the fish flared off, heading back into the deep. Encouraged, we kept casting until drifting off the spot, then repositioned and tried again. Another follow to the boat for Jennifer, and a close jumper was the extent of the Pink Salmon action. With the tide slack, we decided to refuel and test the restaurant at the marina a short distance up the coast and then return when the tide started to flood.
Boathouse 19 overlooks the Narrow Marina and serves what could be categorized as Coastal Northwest cuisine. If your travels take you to this part of the world, stick with the less exotic items on the menu. Chowder and fish tacos are always a safe bet, and one I could live on if required, but Ahi Poke Bowl might be just a bit out of their wheelhouse; fair warning. After lunch and a tank of $6.25 fuel, we returned to where we encountered the Pinks.
With the tide now pushing in from the east and the wind blowing from the west, finding fish became problematic. We stuck with it until it looked like the Pinks had vacated the area, then crossed the Narrows to look for a few Searuns before heading back to Gig and the end of our fishing adventure.
As the day faded and the last cast was made, we watched a large Sea Otter rolling on the surface just off the shoreline where we had been casting. He seemed just to be enjoying himself, playing in the swells of passing boats and watching the brilliant colors of the sunset, unconcerned about us as I pushed the throttle forward and headed back to port.
Puget Sound offers plenty of opportunity for the fly angler, with or without a boat. With resident Searun Cutthroat, Coho Salmon, and Blackmouth, plus migratory Chinook, Chum, Pink, and Coho Salmon, you could spend decades exploring and fishing this inland sea just a few hours from Portland and never see the same thing twice. And that, my friends, is what keeps me going back.